The 2017 election has passed and now, the nation is gearing up for the next Federal Election. While it seems there’s plenty of time to think about registering to vote or figuring out your polling place location, not every American has that luxury. Our country’s active duty service members, their families, and Americans living overseas are charged with taking on significantly more responsibility, and planning much further ahead, than the average voter if they want to cast a ballot on Election Day.
These Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, or UOCAVA, voters, have a unique set of challenges, and should start planning now about how they will participate in upcoming primary elections and the 2018 midterm election. Having been a UOVAVA voter myself, I know these challenges firsthand and the importance of having the information you need to navigate the election system.
If you are a UOCAVA voter or know someone who is, I encourage you to read and/or share this information. I urge you to take the time to register and to vote! Many UOCAVA voters believe that their ballot won’t be counted unless a race is close, but that is NOT true. Your voice counts and your ballot will be counted. Your vote DOES matter.
I’ve written before about my experience serving overseas, the obstacles I ran into when trying to vote and the disappointment I felt when I was not able to cast a ballot. To ensure others do not have a similar experience, below I’ve listed a number of helpful resources to assist UOCAVA voters get registered and vote, as well as some important reminders about timing and where to pose questions that may arise.
Figuring it all out can be overwhelming. Even the task of tracking down this information may be difficult if you don’t know where to start. So, if you are a current member of the military or overseas voter, the EAC has put together the following quick guide for you, a list designed to ensure that you have the information you need to successfully cast a ballot and participate fully in our American democracy. I hope you’ll find this information useful and that you’ll let us know if there is additional information we can provide.
Registering to Vote and Requesting a Ballot
Many Americans now register to vote through the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or online, and then are guided through the process by local election workers charged with ensuring that voters know how and where they can vote on Election Day. As a UOCAVA voter, you often do not have the benefit of such resources. The onus falls on UOCAVA voters themselves to get information about where and how to vote, often months before Election Day.
The first stop for many UOCAVA voters is the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA), which is universally accepted as an absentee voter registration application for UOCAVA voters. This site also contains instructions for requesting a ballot and updating your contact information.
While the FPCA form is standard, the requirements for filling it out and submitting it may be different depending on which state you are from. Each state specifies instructions for the form, which can be found at the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP)’s website. The FVAP recommends UOCAVA voters send in the form at least 90 days before the election in which they want to vote. In addition, they recommend sending in an updated FPCA every January and every time you move.
Voting Deadline Information
The Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act requires absentee ballots be sent to voters at least 45 days before Election Day. This means that UOCAVA voters must send in their requests in advance of that deadline.
Having lived overseas for many years, I have experienced the delays and uncertainties that can result from mail transit. With that in mind, it is important for UOCAVA voters to allow adequate mail transit time when requesting a ballot. As a UOCAVA voter, you should aim to mail your ballot request at least eight weeks before Election Day.
As a UOCAVA voter, you should also think about the mail trends that are common in your current location. If you typically experience significant delays receiving incoming or sending outgoing mail, you should plan your election activities with those delays in mind and adjust accordingly.
Marking and Returning a Ballot
Election offices in each jurisdiction are responsible for transmitting blank ballots, either through the mail or electronically, to all registered UOCAVA voters who request them. Once you receive a ballot, take your time to read and carefully follow the instructions provided before you mark your selections. In addition to marking the ballot, you must also sign the voter affidavit. Many jurisdictions also require the marked ballot be placed in a secrecy envelope. This envelope and the affidavit are put inside the mailing envelope.
Typically, the voter must sign and date the oath printed across the mailing envelope flap as evidence that the contents have not been tampered with. Failure to sign will invalidate the ballot. Also, failure to date the affidavit may result in invalidation if the ballot is received after the deadline and the envelope does not have a postmark to use for verification.
Additional information about returning UOCAVA ballots by mail can be found here.
Ensuring Your Vote Counts
According to the 2016 Election Administration and Voting Survey (EAVS), of the ballots sent back to election offices, three percent were rejected. Of these rejected ballots, nearly half were rejected because they were not received on time – so be sure to mail your ballot back with enough time that it will reach the election office before the deadline.
For more information about the process, including how UOCAVA absentee requests and ballots are processed, see this guide on Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act Registration and Voting Processes.
The EAC also compiles links to branch-specific voter resources and assistance programs.
Relatedly, as National Military Month continues, the EAC is also planning to post blogs with resources to help ensure veterans and veterans with disabilities have the resources they need to vote privately and independently.
For more information designed to assist UOCAVA voters, please visit the EAC's webpage devoted to this topic. You can also learn more about UOCAVA trends through the EAC’s Election Administration and Voting Survey.